Category Archives: Labor Unions

Finding Workers Where They Are: A New Business Model to Rebuild the Labor Movement

Source: Mark Zuckerman, The Century Foundation, February 7, 2019

From the summary:
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
– While corporations and political campaigns have been able to leverage direct marketing and other digital tools to advance their interests, the labor movement seems to be struggling to do the same.
– Labor’s traditional “retail” model of organizing, in which professional organizers physically go into one workplace at a time, is not cost-effective for reaching many workers who do want to unionize—in particular those in smaller and/or geographically isolated workplaces
– Collective bargaining units of twenty-four or fewer employees, for example, are 11.6 percent more likely to win a union election than larger groups, and these employees consistently demonstrated more cohesion in their vote in support of the union.
– A digital organizing strategy that includes an online organizing platform that directly empowers workers to self-initiate organizing drives and file National Labor Relations Board paperwork can help organized labor significantly increase its membership.

Through the Working Class – Five union members from across the Rust Belt reflect on eroding faith in the media

Source: Steven Greenhouse, Columbia Journalism Review, Winter 2019

…. The media covers blue-collar America less closely than it did several decades ago. Christopher R. Martin, author of No Longer Newsworthy: How the Mainstream Media Abandoned the Working Class, which will be published in May, tells me that as more outlets became publicly owned and traded on the stock exchange, they began pursuing a different audience to help boost profits. “Many moved from a mass audience to more of an upscale audience,” Martin says. “Many newspapers have cut back on, or entirely eliminated, the labor beat—the one beat that talked about the life of the working class.” 

At many news organizations, editors are assigning more “upscale minded” stories about skiing vacations in Aspen and whether to invest in Apple and fewer pieces about factory closings in Akron and layoffs in Cincinnati. A result of this approach: the one-hour walkout by 20,000 Google workers received tremendous coverage in the national media, while a steelmaker’s lockout of 2,200 blue-collar workers, for seven painful months, garnered hardly any attention at all. ….

A Union Default: A Policy to Raise Union Membership, Promote the Freedom to Associate, Protect the Freedom not to Associate and Progress Union Representation

Source: Mark Harcourt, Gregor Gall, Rinu Vimal Kumar, Richard Croucher, Industrial Law Journal, Volume 48, Issue 1, 21 February 2019
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Workers are defaulted to being non-union in employment relationships across the world. A non-union default likely has substantial negative effects, consistent with the empirical literature reviewed, on union membership levels, because of switching costs, inertia, social norms and loss aversion. A union default would likely have positive effects on union membership, and has the additional virtues of partially internalising the public goods externalities of unions, improving the freedom to associate (the right to join a union) and preserving the freedom not to associate (the right not to join a union). A union default would also strengthen the extent and effectiveness of union representation.

The Union That Roars

Source: Graham Vyse, Governing, February 2019

In an anti-union era, nurses are proving that organized labor can still be powerful. ….

…. NNU isn’t new to this fight. Breaking up the for-profit health-care system has been a defining mission of the union since its founding a decade ago. But now the group faces a new challenge. NNU is embarking on a revamped Medicare for All campaign not only at the federal level — where the prospects of success are bleak, at least in the short term — but in states across the country, especially those with Democratic governors, most notably California, Minnesota and New York. ….

Why the Seattle General Strike of 1919 should inspire a new generation of labor activists

Source: Steven C. Beda, The Conversation, February 6, 2019

It shut down a major U.S. city, inspired a rock opera, led to decades of labor unrest and provoked fears Russian Bolsheviks were trying to overthrow American capitalism. It was the Seattle General Strike of 1919, which began on Feb. 6 and lasted just five days.

By many measures, the strike was a failure. It didn’t achieve the higher wages that the 35,000 shipyard workers who first walked off their jobs sought – even after 25,000 other union members joined the strike in solidarity. Altogether, striking workers represented about half of the workforce and almost a fifth of Seattle’s 315,000 residents.

Usually, as a historian of the American labor movement, I have the unfortunate job of telling difficult stories about the decline of unions. However, in my view, the story of this particular strike is surprisingly hopeful for the future of labor.

And I believe it holds lessons for today’s labor activists – whether they’re striking teachers in West Virginia or Arizona, mental health workers in California or Google activists in offices across the world….

How Black Activists Shaped the Labor Movement

Source: Kim Kelly, Teen Vogue, No Class, February 7, 2019

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spent his final full day on earth advocating for the rights of workers in what’s now known as his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech. It was April 3, 1968, and King stood up at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee, and spoke in support of the city’s 1,300 sanitation workers, who were then on strike fighting for better safety standards, union recognition, and a decent wage — a work stoppage that was inspired partly by the deaths of Echol Cole and Robert Walker, who had been crushed to death by a garbage truck.

“We’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end,” he told the assemblage. “Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point, in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through. And when we have our march, you need to be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.”,,,

Steward’s Corner: Where Do Good Organizers Come From?

Source: Ellen David Friedman, Labor Notes, February 4, 2019

We know good organizers when we meet them.

They’re accessible. They listen and show respect.

They react calmly to all kinds of people, take their time to size up a situation, and engage people on their own terms.

They brim with suggestions for action, but they’re open to new ideas. They’re not bossy. They always take workers’ side against employers—but among workers, they treat divisions with care and diligence.

They don’t act from fear, and they know how to help others lose their fear.

But few people are born organizers. Instead, we have to find and nurture people who show some interest and willingness to become organizers.

An experiment in Ithaca, New York, over the last two years has shown surprising results in helping workers become organizers, with a method easy to adapt and reproduce anywhere….

The Resurrection of American Labor

Source: Janet Paskin, Bloomberg Businessweek, February 7, 2019

Traditional unions may be stymied, but workers are finding new ways to organize….

According to the official records, U.S. workers went on strike seven times during 2017. That’s a particular nadir in the long decline of organized labor: the second-fewest work stoppages recorded by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics since the agency started keeping track in the 1940s.

There was little reason to believe 2018 would be different, especially with the U.S. Supreme Court, in two decisions, making it harder for public employees unions to fund themselves and restricting workers’ rights to bring class actions. The power of employers appeared to be almost limitless. The unions were, if not busted, then certainly on the verge.

Aggrieved workers, however, took matters into their own hands, using social media and other tech tools to enhance their campaigns. From industry walkouts to wildcat teachers’ strikes, they made very public demands of their employers. The official number of major work stoppages recorded by the BLS in 2018 nearly tripled, to 20. Off the picket line, workers also won a wide range of concessions. Facing employee pressure, Google and McKinsey & Co. dropped contracts for government work employees found objectionable; thousands of dismissed Toys “R” Us workers got a severance fund; and Starbucks Corp. expanded parental and sick leave policies.

In many cases, workers and their advocates bypassed their employers entirely…..

Seattle General Strike: Labor’s Most Spectacular Revolt

Source: Cal Winslow, Labor Notes, February 6, 2019

On February 6, 1919, Seattle’s workers struck—all of them. In doing so they took control of the city.

The strike was in support of 35,000 shipyard workers, then in conflict with the city’s shipyard owners and the federal government’s U.S. Shipping Board, which was still enforcing wartime wage agreements.

The strike rendered the authorities virtually powerless. There was indeed no power that could challenge the workers. There were soldiers in the city, and many more at nearby Camp Lewis, not to mention thousands of newly enlisted, armed deputies—but to unleash these on a peaceful city? The regular police were reduced to onlookers; the generals hesitated.

Seattle’s Central Labor Council, representing 110 unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor (AFL), called the strike. The CLC’s Union Record reported 65,000 union members on strike—a general strike, the first and only of its kind in the U.S. Perhaps as many as 100,000 people participated…..